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Turkey 'forcibly returning' Syrians illegally to warzone

There are an estimated 200,000 displaced Syrians within 20 kilometres of Turkey's border [Getty]

Date of publication: 1 April, 2016

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Amnesty International says Turkey has forcibly returned hundreds of Syrian refugees to their homeland since mid-January, highlighting the dangers for those sent back from Europe under a new 'migrant-trading' deal.

Turkey has illegally returned thousands of Syrians to their war-torn homeland in recent months, exposing "fatal flaws" in an agreement with the European Union, Amnesty International said on Friday.

The organisation says its research on the Turkish-Syrian border suggests that around 100 Syrians, who often have not registered in Turkey, are expelled each day.

One of the cases uncovered by Amnesty International is of three young children forced back into Syria without their parents; another is of the forced return of an eight-month pregnant woman.

"The inhumanity and scale of the returns is truly shocking; Turkey should stop them immediately," said John Dalhuisen, Amnesty International's director for Europe and Central Asia.

Advocacy groups are concerned that the deal, which aims to stem the flow of undocumented migrants and goes into effect on April 4, threatens the rights of asylum seekers, and they question whether Turkey is a safe country for them.

Amnesty International says that 100 Syrians are expelled from Turkey each day

The EU-Turkey deal stipulates the return to Turkey of any Syrian refugee arriving on the Greek islands, to be offset by resettling a Turkey-based Syrian in the EU.

"Far from pressuring Turkey to improve the protection it offers Syrian refugees, the EU is in fact incentivising the opposite," Dalhuisen said. "Having witnessed the creation of Fortress Europe, we are now seeing the copycat construction of Fortress Turkey."

In earlier stages of the conflict, Syrians who held passports were able to cross at regular border gates and even those who entered illegally could register with the authorities.

Now only those needing urgent medical care are allowed to enter and there are an estimated 200,000 displaced Syrians within 20 kilometres (12.4 miles) of Turkey's border.

Tightened border restrictions and new visa requirements for Syrians, the organisation said, have also pushed Syrians into the arms of smugglers who charge an average of $1,000 per crossing.

Amnesty also says Turkish of authorities have scaled back the registration of Syrian refugees in the southern provinces which makes it impossible for them to access basic services.

But Turkey denies that Syrians were being sent back against their will, saying the country had maintained an "open door" policy for Syrian migrants for five years and strictly abided by the non-refoulement principle of not returning someone to a country where they were liable to face persecution.

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